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What I'm Reading Now: 12 Jun 19

The innocent-- David Baldacci
Spinsters in jeopardy -- Ngaio Marsh

The plot of The Innocent sounds a lot like the movie The Professional (Leon): professional hitman takes responsibility for young teenage girl after her parents are killed. At least, that's what I thought, and since I had some problems with the movie, I was a little reluctant to read the book. Only Baldacci's reputation persuaded me to give it a chance... and I'm glad I did. Will Robie is an assassin employed by the US government, and he's feeling his age creeping up on him. On a routine assignment, he has qualms and refuses to kill his target - and a sniper from another building promptly  does it for him. Robie goes to his escape route, taking a bus out of town, and spots a teen who is obviously also running away. When the bus they've just left explodes, Robie takes her with him, and the game kicks into high gear. Robie has to find out who's playing him and who the real target is while protecting the girl, and up until now, the only person he's ever protected is himself. It's a very good read, and one that I finished in a sitting.

In Spinsters in jeopardy (yet another Roderick Alleyn mystery by Ngaio Marsh), Alleyn takes a working holiday to France with his wife and young son. Troy and Ricky aren't supposed to get involved in Alleyn's investigation of a drug ring, but when Alleyn gets too close, Ricky vanishes. There's a bizarre cult in the chateau on the cliff, a murder witnessed from the window of a train, a ghost that illuminates himself, and locals Theresa and Raoul who get themselves thoroughly involved in the investigation. As always, I enjoyed Marsh's writing, although I will gently point out that writing child characters is not precisely her strong suit.

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What I'm Reading Now: 12 June 06

It's been a while, and I can't remember everything I've read during this time. I know there was a bunch of Ann Rule, which was enjoyable but not overly noteworthy. I read some Ngaio Marsh (probably Dead water and Death at the Dolphin). There's probably something else I'm forgetting, but there were also these four:
On second thought: outsmarting your mind's hard-wired habits -- Wray Herbert (non-fiction)
Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behavior -- Leonard Mlodinow (non-fiction)
The disciple of Las Vegas -- Ian Hamilton
The day of the Jackal -- Frederick Forsyth

The way the brain works is devious and fascinating. Both On second thought and Subliminal look at human behaviour through the lens of neuroscience (which is increasingly being called "brain science" for reasons of simplicity). On second thought looks at thought patterns and heuristics: mental shortcuts your mind takes to make decisions, rather than weighing all the options every time. (If it did, every time you went to buy yogurt, it would take you an hour to decide which container to pick off the shelf.) Heuristics are instinctive, and mostly they serve us well, but sometimes they mislead, sometimes they handicap, and sometimes they're downright dangerous. It was an interesting read. Subliminal covers some of the same ground, but in a different way. It, too, talks about gut reactions, but from the perspective of the unconscious mind, the vast majority of data-processing that happens without your knowledge. That's what enables you to pick up on social cues or predisposes you to buy French wine when French music is playing on the store's sound system. It's also what enables a patient whose visual-interpretation part of the brain is nonfunctional, making him blind, be able to successfully navigate a hallway filled with obstacles without any assistance whatsoever, because another, unconscious, part of the brain is still active and using the data his conscious mind cannot. There was a lot of interesting material in here, and Mlodinow is a remarkably entertaining writer. I plan on finding more of his books another time.

Ava Lee is still assessing her wounds from her last complicated debt-collection assignment when she is launched on another one, and this promises to be even messier. In The disciple of Las Vegas, Ava's business partner in Hong Kong, known respectfully as Uncle, is called on to recover $50 million from a land swindle in BC. Ava follows the money from Canada to San Francisco to Costa Rica to Las Vegas, harassed by her powerful and menacing employers for immediate results all the way along. To make things more complicated, an old enemy of Ava's has come into enough money to contract a hitman on Ava... This is the second Ava Lee, and it's as enjoyable as the first. Ava is skilled in lethal levels of martial arts, and she's wealthy and attractive, but she is still human, making mistakes and struggling to recover from them.

I re-read The day of the Jackal on Sunday backstage at the Back 40. I wasn't planning to, but it was there, and I read the first few pages... and then I was hooked. French President Charles de Gaulle has enemies, people who want to see him dead. When their most recent assassination attempt fails, the top three leaders of the movement hire an outsider, a paid killer, to do the job for him. His code name: the Jackal. The first part of the book follows the Jackal as he makes preparations. The second follows the policeman who must find him and stop him. The third part cuts between the two storylines as the moment chosen for the kill comes ever closer. This setup has an odd effect: by the time the first part (Anatomy of a Plot) has finished, you've spent so much time with the Jackal and the resistance movement that you feel a certain appalled liking for the Jackal, and you're almost rooting for him. Then in Anatomy of a Manhunt, you meet Commissaire Lebel, the policeman heading the manhunt, and after a little while, you start cheering for him, too. The ending, when it comes, is everything you would want. It's been made into a movie twice (1973 and 1997), and both are good, although the 1997 version has been updated and is considerably more violent. One note as far as the book goes: it's mostly reserved and proper, almost scholarly, but it can occasionally be crude.

What I'm Reading Now: 12 May 21 (and winner!)

We have a winner!

My order from chapters.indigo.ca was in my mailbox Friday evening. That's five business days from placing order to arrival, which is not too shabby. In that lovely brown box were four books from the Ngaio Marsh Diamond Anniversary collection, specifically volumes 4, 6, 8, and 9. (For those of you in the back who are keeping score, that's Surfeit of Lampreys, Death and the dancing footman, Colour scheme, Opening night, Spinsters in jeopardy, Scales of justice, Hand in glove, Dead water, Death at the Dolphin, Clutch of Constables, When in Rome, and Tied up in tinsel.)

A very near second was the order from amazon.com, courtesy of a friend who gave me a gift credit for the site... in 2008. As I said last time, I finally did something with it last Monday, and the book arrived in Walhalla on Friday evening. We picked it up on Saturday. The book in question is Pegasus, by Robin McKinley, and I am once again anxiously awaiting the publication of the other two books in the trilogy, as this ended in mid-crisis. (Because of this, I'm slightly reluctant to re-read Pegasus until I have book two in hand, and it's only scheduled for publication next year.)

The night circus - Erin Morgenstern (fantasy)
Hand in glove - Ngaio Marsh (mystery)

I have finally read the night circus, and it's lovely. I first heard about it as a book that began as a NaNoWriMo manuscript. Apparently, the only interesting thing in that story was the circus, so Morgenstern dropped the rest of the plot and focused on the circus. The story's sections are introduced with second-person narratives about the mysterious appearance of an unusual circus near your home, and your reaction to it. The story itself takes place in the late 1800s, and involves magic, a circus that only runs from dusk until dawn, a competition between two sworn enemies, and a young man who falls in love with a girl he only sees for a few days. Not to overuse a phrase, it's a magical book, and I strongly encourage you to read it, even if you're not a fantasy reader.

Hand in glove is the 22d Roderick Alleyn mystery, and a re-read for me. Percival Pyke Period is a little wrapped up in proper manners and proper bloodlines, which makes the current necessity for sharing his home (for the extra income) hard to take. His neighbor's ward and her boyfriend are disturbingly low-class, and the young man for whom he is a guardian wants to take up painting as a career, which is a little disreputable. When his houseguest goes missing after a lavish treasure hunt, and Alleyn is called in to deal with the body found in the ditch, all kinds of snobberies, squabbles, and secrets get an airing. It was a fun read, especially as I'd forgotten who did it, and certainly worth a few hours of my time.